The 2021 European Reading Challenge: How Far Will My Journey Go?

Early this year and purely by chance, I discovered Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge.

ERC 2021

The basic idea of the challenge is simply to read books by European writers or set in European countries. Although I was a bit doubtful about participating, which is only sensible given my dismal completion record for challenges, I nevertheless started sorting through the shelves to see if I had any books that would qualify.  As it turns out, I had quite a few.  I also had so much fun doing the sort I decided that, what the heck, I might as well go ahead and officially participate.  After all, unless our reach exceeds our grasp, what’s a heaven for, right?  (sorry about that paraphrase, Mr. Browning).  Besides, this challenge allows me to decide my own level of participation.  I can be anything from a Pensione Weekender (i.e., I read one qualifying book this year) to a Deluxe Entourage (I read five).  Surely I can read at least one book set in Europe or written by a European, can’t I?  At last, could I have found a Challenge I can meet?

In addition to the Challenge’s official criteria (time frame; definition of European country, etc.) I decided to observe a couple of rather idiosyncratic rules in choosing my own selections.  Because I’m beginning to really enjoy translated literature, I decided to limit my selections to works by non-Anglophone writers and, if possible, to pick novels set in their native country.  For similar reasons, I decided to avoid fiction by writers from the U.K. or Ireland; at least half of my reading comes from British and Irish writers, and for this Challenge I’d like to expand my horizons a bit.

With very little effort I compiled the most marvelous pile, so to speak:

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I actually have several other works in translation that I can’t quite locate (blame my upcoming move) . . . .

Regarding my level of participation — why not aim for the stars?  In other words, the Deluxe Entourage or bust! (everyone should be optimistic at the start of a trip, don’t you think?  I can always adjust my route later to fit my budge, so to speak)!  Although I’m presently unsure precisely where my journey will start, my very tentative itinerary is as follows:

  1.  Norway:
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The blurb compares the author to the U.S.’s Anne Tyler, IMO high praise indeed.  I’m always interested in family relationships and this story of the ramifications created when a seventy-year old couple decide to divorce promises to provide some interesting dynamics.  Although the novel is set in Italy, its original language and characters are Norwegian; I therefore consider this the first stop in the Scandinavian leg of my trip . . . .

2.  Denmark:

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I continue in Scandinavia, with this tale of Anna, an elderly widow whose husband has recently died.  Anna addresses her thoughts to her long-dead best friend, who just happened to be the first wife of Anna’s deceased husband.  Translated from Danish by the author.

2.  Sweden (my Scandinavian journey continues)

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Set in a small Swedish village in the midst of winter, I’ve had this story of an unlikely friendship between two very different women sitting on my shelves for a very long time indeed.  My trip through Scandinavia seems the ideal time to finally read it.

3.  Iceland (my journey zigzags to a more remote corner of Scandinavia):

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The title of this one pretty much explains the setting, doesn’t it?  I’m very much looking forward to this tale of a young woman in 1960s Reykjavik who’s determined to carve out a career as a writer.  One of my earliest acquisitions from Pushkin Press, the author is one of Iceland’s best known writers.

4.  France (time to head south)

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I’ve long been intending to sample Nothomb’s work and what better place to start than with this tale of a young woman and her relationships with mother, mentor and friend?  Born in Japan to Belgian parents, Nothomb lives in Paris and writes in French; so I consider her novel to be the glamorous French stop on my trip!

5.  Greece (my trip takes a Mediterranean twist)

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Liberaki’s Three Summers comes to me by way of a great NYRB book sale (I’m afraid I’ve been overindulging in those during our awful year of the plague).  Set in the countryside near Athens before WWII, it’s a coming of age tale of three sisters, told mostly from the youngest’s point of view.

6.  Spain (I aim for the sixth star — perhaps out of reach, but then what are lists for?)

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Described on the blurb as Spain’s Catcher in the Rye, this autobiographical novel is set in Barcelona in the years following Spain’s terrible civil war (1936-1939).  Since I know little about Spain’s modern history, I’m particularly looking forward to reading this.

Well dear readers, that’s the itinerary so far.  Please keep in mind, however, that I tend to be a spontaneous traveler and have frequently altered my destination depending on time, mood and opportunity.

14 thoughts on “The 2021 European Reading Challenge: How Far Will My Journey Go?

  1. This is such a great challenge and what a lovely choice of books there. I fully intended to take part last year, and I read so many books in translation that I have no doubt that I read my five – but I always forget to track them and link them! Never mind – I shall still keep reading in translation! 😀

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, not to mention encouragement! I may have signed on to the Challenge too late to be an “official” participant (or else Mr Linky was just being temperamental) — not that it matters that much, as I intend to give these books a try. There’s so much great stuff out there it’s hard to limit the choices, isn’t it? As for your own reaading in translation — well, they’d have to create a special category, wouldn’t they? Maybe “Super Jetsetter Deluxe First Class”? (I can’t even estimate the number of great recommendations I taken from your blog!)

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  2. Hi Georgiana! thanks for stopping by! I’ve had a few acquaintances in the past from Romania and I’d love to visit there, although it will have to be a bookish trip for the foreseeable future! My list was taken mostly from books I already owned, which didn’t include any Romanian authors. I’d love to have some recommendations if you have any you’d like to share!

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  3. I’m glad you’re joining this one this year! This looks like a fun list of books. Unlike Back to the Classics I never try to pick books for this one in advance–it’s hopeless! But your list does look like a fun bunch: that’s a Nothomb I haven’t read & I’ve definitely been curious about that Liberaki. Enjoy! and I’m looking forward to enjoying your trip along with!

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    1. Reese! Delighted you dropped by and thanks for the welcome. I’m looking forward very much to my bookish European jaunt and I’m so glad I found the challenge (it really was by chance — I think I was reading Karen’s blog at booksandchocolate when she was picking her books). I didn’t manage to sign up until the last day in January and I’m not sure that Mr Linky accepted me; so I may turn out to be a “shadow” participant! Ah well. . .
      As I recall, aren’t you planning to start your own trip in Italy, with Hughes’ Poets in a Landscape? I’m very eager to hear your take on it. I do admire your boldness in not mapping out your journey in advance but I’m a far more timid traveler and, while I may deviate from the route, that route MUST be planned, at least to some extent (I’m a bit of compulsive Type A) Besides, since I so rarely do that well with challenges, for me picking the books is a major component of the adventure!
      Although I’ve been aware of her work for years, I’ve never gotten around to Nothomb at all (do you like her BTW?), so I’m really looking forward to this stop on the trip. And, yes, the Liberaki was a major draw for me in compiling my list.
      Good luck on your own trip; I eagerly await your reports!

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      1. I do like Nothomb–I think she’s quirky and pretty fun, but I’ve only read 2 and seen a third one as a movie, so since she’s written a bunch of books, though all quite short I think, I scarcely know her at all. But I do mean to read more of her (and own another one that I found in a remaindered pile!)

        I did read Poets in a Landscape, though I posted about it deceptively under another title… 😉 Italy Books: His and Hers. Short answer, though: I liked it! Though I’d read it more for the landscape than the poets.

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  4. So nice that you stopped by LT! And thanks for the kind words — I did have a lot of fun selecting the stops on my journey (alas, I rejected almost as many). This is the first year I’ve tried to participate in this Challenge and I did, literally, wait until almost the end of January. The link wouldn’t accept my attempt to “officially” register, nor does the website show my comment, which was “awaiting approval.” I basically decided I’d be a shadow participate, if nothing else! Here’s the link to the website if you’d like to try to register:https://www.rosecityreader.com/p/2021-european-reading-challenge.html

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  5. Bon voyage Janakay! I like how you are moving from the cold north to the warm south in your journey. Embarrassingly, I’ve only heard of Northomb. I read so little in translation – maybe only a couple of books a year, so I am looking forward to hearing about your experiences with these. Maybe you will convince me to pick one of them up in future. 😀

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  6. Hi Ruthiella! Thanks for the good wishes–I will need them, being much better at picking books for challenges than in actually reading them! I hadn’t realized until you mentioned the north to south aspect of my “trip” that in some ways I was replicating my big “backpack to Europe with a Eurail pass” (do they still do those? I really doubt it) of my twenties. I did not, alas, visit ALL these countries but I DID go north to south in a totally illogical fashion, being north in the cold early spring and south in the hot summer. One of the nice thing about being an armchair traveler is never having to worry about the weather or getting a hotel room (I got rained on a lot and did much sleeping in train stations and on trains during my early backpack time).
    I’m afraid I’m not terribly familiar with most of my writers either! I picked these books mostly for the appeal of the stories (conversations with a dead husband’s first wife? an elderly couple who call it quits? very, very interesting) and as a foil to some of the Classics Challenge selections, which tend to be my “stretch” books. As always, however, it’s the writing reviews rather than the reading that’s the real challenge for me. Despite best intentions, I’m already about three reviews behind and falling further by the day. This despite the fact that I’m reading some very good stuff. As I recall, you’re a Cather fan and I’m just getting into an early novella, Alexander’s Bridge, for Kaggsy’s small press thingy (my edition is the Melville novella series). I’ve also been reading Jean Stafford’s Catherine Wheel, after many years of avoiding her. I’m still hesitant about the Mountain Lion, but I’m finding Catherine Wheel very absorbing.
    I hope all is going well with you and you’re staying healthy. Also, that you’re reaing many, many things as I so much enjoy your reviews!

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  7. These covers, I am having a feast. I don’t know if it’s that I am art deprived but they’re feeding my thirst for art and I am happy for you. Eager to know which ones deliver and which ones don’t.

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  8. I’m so tempted by this challenge but I know I have too many other things going on to attempt it now. All your choices sound intriguing. It will be interesting to hear how they compare to each other. I think the Greek one attracts me most but who wouldn’t like to travel to Greece? Actually, after this past year, who wouldn’t love to travel anywhere, ha, ha! At least we can do it with books. All the best on your journeys!!

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  9. Hi Cleo! So glad you stopped by. I know exactly what you mean by too many challenges, as I’m already woefully behind in my two. I was moving houses (again!) in February and I’m afraid packing boxes and locating the tea kettle (not to mention the cats) pushed my blogging/reading aside. I still managed to read a few interesting things and hopefully will soon pull myself together enough to review them.
    The Grand Tour Challenge did look fun, especially in these times of lockdown. I’d certainly like to join you on that trip to Greece (a childhood dream) or, as you say, anywhere else, really at this point! I’ll have to see, however, if my literature selections satisfy or exacerbate my wanderlust . . .

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